Monday, March 28, 2016

Meet the Hawkwatchers - Anna Stunkel - Bradbury Mountain, ME

Anna Stunkel at Golden Gate Raptor Observatory
1 Tell us a little about your history!

I grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, and have loved birding since elementary school. My family has always loved spending time outdoors and they encouraged my interest in birding. I started getting into birding by visiting local hotspots (especially Mount Auburn Cemetery, an excellent warbler stopover site) and joined a young birders club. I was fortunate to have some wonderful mentors at Mass Audubon who took me on birding trips and let me help with passerine and saw-whet owl banding. My fascination with birds kept growing with each of these adventures. When it came time to apply for college, I knew that I wanted to study ornithology and ecology. Most of all, conservation biology and animal behavior fascinate me, so I focused my studies on those areas. I went to school at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where I had the opportunity to take field-based classes visiting nearby Acadia National Park, Great Duck Island, other areas of Maine, and Costa Rica. These courses were unforgettable, and I learned so much from my professors, classmates, and our adventures.

2 How long have you been counting hawks? Where have you counted before?
I've been counting hawks for three fall seasons. Just after graduating college, I did an internship working as a hawkwatcher and raptor bander at Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, in California. Before then I had little experience as a hawk counter, but instantly loved it. The site is an amazing place to observe a variety of raptors, some of which were new to me as an east coaster. The staff and volunteers at GGRO are excellent teachers and I learned so much about hawkwatching and raptor research.

For the past two falls, I worked as a hawkwatcher for Intermountain Bird Observatory, at Lucky Peak in Idaho. I had the opportunity to work with a great field crew, supervisors, and hawkwatch partner, and also had a chance to do more outreach work.

3 Where are you counting this year? What do you like most about the watch?

This spring I am counting on Bradbury Mountain, near Freeport, Maine. The count is sponsored by Freeport Wild Bird Supply (website here and Facebook Page here) and Leica Optics (which provides me with amazing quality optics for the duration of the season). There is a link to the hawkwatch page, which includes our page that is updated daily, on the Freeport Wild Bird Supply website.

I have just started the season at this site, and am very happy to be back in Maine where I am familiar with the diverse birdlife and ecology of the region. In particular, I was excited to get started at this site because education and outreach are an integral part of the program. Bradbury Mountain State Park is one of the most visited state parks in Maine, so many people come up and ask questions about the hawk count. I am also pleased that the hawkcounter is responsible for recording both raptor and non-raptor migrant numbers, thus adding useful data to the program. My supervisors, Derek and Jeannette Lovitch, own Freeport Wild Bird Supply and are highly knowledgeable regarding local areas to go birding as well as useful hawkwatching and birding ID suggestions.

Anna Stunkel and a Red-tailed Hawk 
4 What is it that you especially like about raptors. What turned you on to hawkwatching? What was the first site you visited?

I love the power, beauty, and agility of raptors. Their diversity in plumages and hunting techniques also amazes me. When I was a kid, I visited Wachusett Mountain hawkwatch in Massachusetts and became fascinated by the beauty of these birds and the sheer numbers moving through. I especially love falcons, with their fierce personalities, speed, and intelligence. Anyone is likely to feel a sense of awe watching raptor kettles, which is another one of my favorite aspects of hawkwatching. While working in Idaho, we watched large kettles each containing up to one hundred Turkey Vultures streaming overhead, and were able to share the spectacle of these often under-appreciated birds with visitors.

5 What do you like particularly about the world of hawkwatching? 

I love both the moments of solitude and the outreach and education involved in hawkwatch. Spending time alone on a mountain while watching birds is an excellent way to develop focus and tune in to the natural world. At the same time, one of the main reasons that I enjoy hawkwatching so much is that it provides a chance to teach visitors about these birds. I think that this aspect is just as important as collecting accurate data, especially when it comes to teaching children. Young children tend to have a wonderful enthusiasm about new and interesting things in nature, and they are the next generation who should learn to enjoy and care for the natural world.

Busy days are a beautiful spectacle, and I love watching large kettles. I appreciate that hawkwatching is an art, and ID is more about general impressions, flight style, and shape than it is about field marks. While it is always wonderful to appreciate the beauty of raptors up close, distant IDs provide the greatest and most challenging learning moments.

I love meeting a variety of people from all walks of life who volunteer their time towards hawkwatching. I have listened to some fascinating stories from these people, learned from them, and enjoyed many good times.

6 Unfortunately hawks don’t migrate year round. What do you do for the rest of the year?

During the rest of the year, I work for other seasonal fieldwork positions as often as possible. These have included work on seabird islands (Petit Manan, Maine and Southeast Farallon, California), and a woodpecker project (Hastings Natural History Reserve, California). Each of these projects has provided a great learning opportunity and the chance to work in beautiful places. During the winter, I work as an artist and elementary school substitute teacher.
Anna's Office at Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch
7 If you could go and count hawks anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I would love to see the River of Raptors in Veracruz. It would also be amazing to visit Eilat, Israel, which is one of the best migration sites in the world for raptors as well as other birds. The photos of sheer raptor numbers at these sites are stunning! There are so many other places that I would like to visit and count hawks. Others include the Goshute Mountains, Hawk Ridge, and Cape May.

8 What do you like to do when you aren’t watching hawks (or birding)?

I love to draw and paint, and think that sketching is a great way to become familiar with birds (as well as other wildlife and plants) and make careful observations. I also enjoy horseback riding, looking for reptiles and amphibians, and listening to ‘70s music.

9 Do you have a personal blog, website, flickr page etc that we can keep up with your adventures?

I have a deviantart account where I post artwork and fieldwork photos (link here), along with an art blog (link here). 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

More HawkCount reviewers needed!

The HMANA Data Committee and Board have re-initiated a review of HawkCount data entry in an effort to reduce errors and encourage documentation for rare species observations. Prior to the shift to digital data entry, HawkCount paper forms were previously reviewed for accuracy.
The reviewers listed below by state, province or region have kindly volunteered to serve in this capacity starting in spring 2016. Because more HawkCount sites operate during the fall migration, we will be expanding this review process and will need additional volunteers starting in late summer 2016. Contact Gerald J. Niemi ( if interested.  

Reviewer                            Count Area(s)   
Zach Smith                        Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, 
                                              New Brunswick, Quebec
Paul Roberts                      Connecticut, Massachusetts
Andy Mason                      New York
Laurie Goodrich                Pennsylvania
Holly Merker
Tom Reed                           Delaware, Maryland, 
                                              New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia
John Barker                        Eastern Ontario
Markus Mika                     Arkansas, Manitoba, Michigan, Minnesota, 
                                              Western Ontario, Wisconsin
Neil Paprocki                     Alaska, Arizona, Colorado
Alan Fish                           California
Arthur Green                      Montana, Texas, Mexico, Central 
                                              and South America